INDIANAPOLIS — Hey, all he said was they would win. He didn’t say he was going make it happen. Just because Rasheed Wallace missed his first shot, his second, third and fourth shots, his fifth and sixth shots, made his seventh, then missed his eighth and ninth, then threw up an air ball with his 10th, hey, that doesn’t mean he was wrong, does it?

What counts is the score, not the score settled. And if all you’re interested in is results — and it’s all you should be — well, you might want to check with Wallace for stock tips. Because on a night of forgettable shooting, the best plays were blocks, and the best block of all came with 14 seconds left with Indiana’s Reggie Miller, the star of Game 1, heading to the hoop for the tying lay-up in Game 2. It was all over, it seemed. And then it was all over. Because here came Tayshaun Prince, flying higher than he ever has as a Piston, and he slapped that ball away and landed halfway into the photographers.

And suddenly, Rasheed Wallace was right.

“One of the greatest hustle plays I’ve ever seen,” Larry Brown called Prince’s moment when it was over.

And he has seen a lot.

Pistons win, 72-67. And let’s leave it at that, shall we? Unless you’re some sort of sumo wrestling nut, or a perpetual half-full versus half-empty person, this was not a memorable game Monday night. It was terrible shooting by the Pistons and even worse shooting by Pacers. It was balls off players’ hands and balls knocked away from players’ hands. It was traveling called as a jump ball and offensive fouls called as blocking and air balls doubling as shots.

The “honorary” team captain named for the Pacers before the game was a hairy behemoth from “Survivor.” And now I know why. Only a man stranded on a desert island would find this entertaining.

After Game 1, people said “the Pacers won’t shoot 34 percent again.” They were right. This time they shot 28 percent.

But what counts is the end, and the end was a block, some free throws, and a victory. The series is tied. Home-court advantage shifts to the Pistons.

They should take it and run.

And Rasheed will be smiling all the way.

Playing to the crowd

Before the game, all the talk was about “the guarantee” — which began when Wallace, without provocation, predicted victory for the Pistons in Game 2, saying, “Put it on the front page, back page, middle of the page. They will not win Game 2.” When asked a day later if he wanted to back off, he refused. “We will win Game 2,” he said, earnestly.

On the one hand, you can’t blame the media for hyping this up. What else are they going to focus on — the great shooting?

But these things are always more noise than numbers, more air than action. If Wallace’s words were such inspiring material, how come the Pistons came out like the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight? If the words were such “bulletin board” material for the Pacers, how come they acted as if they’d break out in hives if they hit two straight baskets?

Guarantees, even for Game 7’s, are now too common to be anything more than a trading card, maybe worth something one day if history is kind. But to make a guarantee for Game 2? It should basically be forgotten a soon as the ball is tipped up.

And it would have been, were the first quarter not such a joke. A guarantee that anybody would win this game seemed only a 50-50 bet. How bad was it? With one minute left in the period, the Pistons had two baskets and four turnovers. High school teams laugh at stats like that. Ben Wallace had only played five minutes before disappearing for the rest of the half with two fouls. There was one Pistons starter on the floor (Richard Hamilton) and Elden Campbell was their reigning big man.

And you want to hear the funniest part? They were still right in it. That’s the kind of night it was.

A playoff basketball game? It was more like diving for pearls in a big, gray ocean: hold your breath, let things go dark for a long time, and hope somebody rises to the surface with something in his hands. This was a night where blocks were more memorable than shots — and, at times, more plentiful. A lid on the rim? If trying to pass a kidney stone could ever be as a basketball game, this would be that game. Slow. Agonizing. Painful. And the only relief would come when it was finished.

Rasheed Wallace had about as bad a first quarter as a prognosticator could have. Imagine Joe Namath in that Super Bowl throwing six straight incompletions? Imagine Cassius Clay getting knocked down six times by Sonny Liston.

But Wallace was non-plussed. When he went to the bench, the crowd hooted and hollered, and he encouraged the fans to be louder. He raised his hands as if to say, “More, more.” They obliged.

If Rasheed wanted extra attention to motivate himself, he got it.

Then again, he got the victory, too.

No guarantees in the series

So the Pistons take it. They win despite their shooting. They win because Prince has been doing a great defensive job on Ron Artest — who was again abysmal (5-for-21.) And because Rasheed at least partly made up for his 4-for-19 shooting with his defense of Jermaine O’Neal, who didn’t score in the second half. They win because they set a franchise mark for blocks. And yes, they win because Indiana shot terribly.

Still, Detroit should not rest easy. The Pistons are hardly playing their best basketball. If the Pistons don’t find more offense, if Chauncey Billups doesn’t realize he’s not playing Jason Kidd anymore, if the Pistons don’t concentrate harder, eliminate mental mistakes, and move that ball around rather than their eyes, I wouldn’t bet on anything here.

Even if Rasheed guaranteed it.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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